Monday, June 14, 2010

Case Studies

  • Hitting the panic button...or not:

It's been bothering me for weeks that I was discussing Joe Buck and a stat zombie suggested that the younger Buck was in his current position because his "dad was a great player". Said stat zombie----actually one of the few reasonable types who actually listens when you talk----was blissfully unaware of who Jack Buck was.

To me, this exemplifies the issues among the stat obsessed vs old school.

How do you consider yourself qualified to be an authority and have the audacity to seek front office baseball jobs based on little more than a numerical knowledge and ability to calculate formulas, and not have the breadth of knowledge in baseball history to know who Jack Buck was? It's not as if recognition for a Hall of Fame broadcaster is going to affect baseball interpretation one way or the other, but this arrogance is somewhat disturbing and is symptomatic of the culture in which we live; a culture in which human beings and subjectivity is ignored and ridiculed as irrelevant as a means to bolster their own beliefs and denigrate those who disagree.

As information has become more easily accessible at the click of a button, the number of individuals who see themselves as qualified to weigh in on any and all aspects of running a club has grown exponentially. Like the above-discussed stat zombie, you can't fake it forever and eventually spouting generalities will catch up to you as you fall into the trap of your own making.

It works on the other side of the spectrum as well with the likes of Mike Francesa and Joe Morgan trying to maintain the veneer of all-encompassing credibility that feeds into itself circularly as a form of cannibalism. The specious leap from one faulty belief into the other is easy and accords self-sustaining credibility where there should be none.

Francesa is on the radio, therefore he's an "expert".

Joe Morgan was a Hall of Fame player, therefore his baseball intelligence is infallible.

This is not logic; it's not common sense. The two things have nothing to do with one another.

As more and more people have insinuated themselves into commenting with a self-assuredness and pomposity to preach about that which they know very little, we've seen an explosion of cluelessness. Like the Bing commercials where search engine overload results in the rampant spouting of nonsense, it's hard to know where to turn for accurate information; but the key to maintaining sanity and objectivity is to get back to the basics.

Before the internet made it easy for anyone and everyone to have a forum and cherrypick their facts to "prove" their points, there weren't the calls for replacing a player after five bad games; nor were there the speculation on a manager firing after a week. Hitting the panic button for an organization wasn't based in part by caving to public pressure to "do something----NOW!!!!"

Patience has a place in sports if a player/coach/manager change is undeserved.

We're seeing the value in waiting before doing something drastic as players and managers have saved themselves by taking advantage of the opportunity to straighten out.

Let's take a look at a few:

Troy Glaus

Braves fans are chortling now, but in watching Glaus over the first month of the season with his slow bat; immobile defense; and----worst of all----lack of hustle, even the most optimistic couldn't have expected him to experience a renaissance into the power threat he's been for the last month-and-a-half; but he has.

Not only has he carried the Braves into first place in the NL East, but he's placed himself into MVP consideration and is going to make the All Star team. This is all happening at age 33 and after he missed almost all of the 2009 season with injuries.

His bat is still not quick enough to catch up to a really good power fastball, but he's ripping everything else; getting on base; and hitting in the clutch. If the Braves had released or benched him after that woeful first month----as I and others suggested----it obviously would've been hitting the panic button too soon. He can't keep up this pace, but considering what they've gotten from him in May and June, he's already earned his keep.

The Red Sox

They're still going to need a bat, especially if Mike Camreon and Jacoby Ellsbury are going to be in-and-out with injuries, in fact, it's getting to the point where they may as well just forget about Ellsbury until August-September. Don't expect Adrain Beltre to hit .335 either. But David Ortiz has again experienced a resurgence once the warmer weather has hit; and Kevin Youkilis has carried them.

The pitching has been spotty from top-to-bottom; and the vaunted defense has been better than it was earlier in the year, but is still mediocre. The schedule has helped them get back into legitimate contention as they've beaten up on the Royals, Athletics, and Orioles; they also swept the Rays. They're going to have to make some moves to have a chance to make the playoffs; but they have a lot of games left with the dregs of the league----the Mariners and Orioles especially.

The calls for firings:

Sometimes a change is the answer or at least a viable solution to the problems a team is having. Other times, it's just a caving in to public pressure or a self-defense mechanism by an owner or GM trying to grant himself a reprieve from the gathering storm.

The Mets have righted the ship, are beating the teams they should beat and are forming a close-knit, cohesive "all-for-one" unit. Would that have happened had they fired manager Jerry Manuel and replaced him with Bob Melvin? Probably. In retrospect to that move, Melvin would've gotten the credit and Manuel the blame; but since the team is playing crisply and well and is no longer the target of inaccurate cheap shots (for now), Manuel's holding the team together deserves credit.

Naturally there are other situations where the firing was justified. Trey Hillman and Dave Trembley were both overmatched. They weren't part of the solution, things weren't progressing with two rebuilding and floundering clubs, so it made sense to make a change.

The Angels and Dodgers

Has anyone been watching the Angels under Mike Scioscia all these years?

Have they paid attention to the way Joe Torre has been able to overcome slow starts, in-fighting and relentless off-field madness to steer the ship back in the right direction?

With their history of success under the current management, it's laughable that the Angels were referred to as the "worst team in baseball" after a couple of bad weeks. There are teams that could be seen as a mirage whether they're playing well or poorly; other teams need to be looked at in an summarized fashion. The Angels are the latter. It's not just a series of peaks and valleys with them; their valleys still have them in contention when, by all rights, they shouldn't' be.

With the Dodgers, they couldn't get out of their own way and the McCourt divorce tragi-comedy was a distraction off the field and prevented the club from making improvements on the field; but the Dodgers had enough talent to contend even without making any splashy acquisitions. It's a story we saw again and again with Torre managing the Yankees----he has the talent with the Dodgers and he's winning. Why think that he's lost that magic now?

Joba Chamberlain

I'd completely understand if Brian Cashman started screaming like a raving lunatic at those who insisted----almost to the part of popping a blood vessel in their brains----that Joba Chabmberlain belonged in the bullpen, and are now complaining because he's been inconsistent and nothing close to the force of nature he was in 2007. It remains to be seen whether he'll ever again approach that dominance.

I always felt he belonged in the bullpen and can't to a conclusion one way or the other as to whether the constant debate, babying and jerking him around has affected him beyond all repair; and Chamberlain has been mostly effective this season----his overall numbers have been bloated by a few bad games----but it has to be so tempting for Cashman to say, "Now what? Since he hasn't been the unhittable monster he was in '07, where are the calls to move him back to the rotation?"

You have to wonder if Cashman regrets bringing Chamberlain up as a reliever in '07 and starting this mess to begin with.

  • Viewer Mail 6.14.2010:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE the Mariners and Bobby Valentine:

I can't believe the Mariners have turned into such a mess. I honestly thought they'd contend in their division this year. And I agree - why shouldn't Valentine take a job with the O's? It would be a challenge to turn a formerly proud franchise around.

The Mariners are a shining example of getting caught up in the hype without seriously examining the facts. It was known that they outplayed their numbers last year, but with the acquisition of Cliff Lee to combine with Felix Hernandez, you had to figure they'd be good for 2 of every 5 games. The division was winnable; and with their defense, it was reasonable to expect a repeat of last season. History has to be taken into account, but the idol-worship needs to be dispatched when drawing conclusions. I'm working on it.

To me, the Orioles would be a worthy challenge for Bobby Valentine and his getting them into contention with the Yankees and Red Sox would not only get him back on the big stage, but would feed his ginormous ego. Plus, they'd pay him and buy the players he wants----why wouldn't he want the job?

The Brooklyn Trolley Blogger writes RE the Orioles:

Please Orioles...sign Valentine! Because a Marlins team with Valentine managing it in the same division with the Mets really really scares the hell out of me.

I'm gradually losing my belief that the "all-powerful manager" has that much of an impact on a team that we have to be scared of the mere possibility that he might be hired by a division rival.

If he was replacing someone who's openly costing his team games as Bud Black occasionally does; as Trey Hillman did; as A.J. Hinch has, okay; but would the Marlins be that much better under Valentine than they've been in recent years overachieving the sum of their parts for Fredi Gonzalez? I don't see how.

Jeff (Street Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE Bobby Valentine:

What's the glamorous appeal of a Bobby Valentine anyway? I have nothing against the guy, and for all I know he's a great manager... but it's not like he's Bobby Cox or Tony LaRussa good in terms of results, right?

Valentine's aura and penchant for getting into trouble----not in the Billy Martin fashion, but with his polarizing personality; sour faces; managing skills; and arrogance----have made him an attention-grabber.

Strategically, he's right up there with La Russa. Cox is respected and liked by his players, but if you look at his teams, the argument could be made that he was benefiting from a bunch of Hall of Famers on his roster and a classic pitching staff. Many times, the manager's success is determined by his players and his influence is negligible at best----see Bob Brenly, who's won as many World Series titles as Cox and was a terrible manager.

Valentine and La Russa are worth a few wins by themselves; I don't know if I can say the same about Cox. 2010BaseballGuideCover.gif

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She-Fan said...

I'm sure the Mets enjoyed beating up on the O's - who doesn't - but at this point I'm thinking they need more than a managerial change. I'd like to take over the team myself.

Joe said...

The Red Sox are sixth in Defensive Efficiency, and sixth in UZR, in all of baseball. How is that mediocre?